Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, who is considered the "Mother of Mohiniyattam", was instrumental in elevating the dance Mohiniyattam into a classical dance form of India. Her efforts promoted Mohiniyattam from a dismal, near-extinct state into a mainstream Indian classical dance, rendering it formal structure and ornamentation.
Hailing from Thirunavaya in Malappuram district, from a reputed Nair family, Karingamanna, Kalyanikuttiamma was very keenly intrested in many fields like literature, sports,yoga etc. But she never thought of learning dance until Vallathol invited her to enroll for dance lessons in Kerala Kalamandalam. The adventurous and independent young Kalyanikutty Amma took up the challenge. She was turned out of her home and was denied everything she was entitled to. But she was so determined that nothing could prevent her from learning the very sensual and graceful dance form of Kerala. Her life long commitment to Mohiniyattam is a part of history now.
Under late Krishna Panicker Asan who was then 78, Kalyanikutty Amma took rigorous training in Mohiniyattam and had her Arangetram in 1939. She took training in Kathakali from Pattikamthodi Ravunni Menon and from Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair who was then a teacher in Kerala Kalamandalam. Later Vallothol handed over to Kalyanikutty Amma the responsibility of compiling and uplifting Mohiniyattam to a full-fledged dance form and giving it a dignified status in the society. This inspired Kalyanikutty Amma, and with the support of her husband Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair she started the great journey with Mohiniyattam, with which she lived through until her last breath.
Kalyanikutty Amma did extensive research into the origin and history of the dance, traveling all over Kerala to trace its growth. She visited numerous temples where the dance form had been performed. She even interviewed some descendents of the devadasis. She developed many adavus (basic steps) and classified them into different groups namely, Thaganam, Jaganam, Dhaganam and Sammishram. Her strict and clear instructions of a systematic method for the movements of the body and limbs created a formal structure for Mohiniyattam. She composed cholkettu, jatiswarams, varnams, padams, thillanas, slokams, and sapthams in Malayalam and Sanskrit in suitable ragas to bring out the lasya and bhakti of Mohiniyattam. She liberated the theme of Mohiniyattam from just Sambhoga Shringara and Vipralambha Sringara to various emotions and made use of the Navarasas. This widened the scope of Abhinaya in Mohiniyattam. One of her famous padams, Varika Varika Sakhi is a typical example. Among the two books by Smt Kalamandalam KalyanikuttiAmma, "Mohiniyattam - History and Dance Structure" is considered as an elaborate and authentic documentation on Mohiniyattam.
Kalyanikutty Amma cleared the mythical mystery behind the name of this dance form and gave it the most convincing explanation based on truth, social and historical evolution, interpreting Mohiniyattam as the dance of a beautiful lady than that of a mythical enchantress from heaven. As part of her contribution she conducted seminars and workshops, and performed Mohiniyattam all over India to spread the light.
Kalyanikutty Amma's life is studded with landmarks and achievements. In 1938 Mahakavi Shri Vallathol bestowed upon her the title Kavayithri (a title given for excellence in poetry). In 1972, she received a Fellowship from Kendra Sangeetha Nataka Academy. In 1974, both Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and Kendra Sangeetha Nataka Academy honored her for her priceless contributions to Mohiniyattam. In the same year Kendra Sangeetha Nataka Akademy conferred on her the title Guru. In 1980, she received Keerthi Shanghu from Kerala Kalamandalam. In 1982 Kerala Fine Arts Society awarded her Natya Praveena. In 1986 Kerala Kalamandalam honored her with aFellowship. In 1997 she was awarded the coveted Kalidasa Puraskar by Madhya Pradesh government for her work in Indian Classical dance world. This illustrious career came to an end on 12th May I999. Her legacy lives on through Mohiniyattam and her numerous disciples.